Doing things for the first time is a double-edged sword. I mean on the one hand, there's nothing more thrilling than the adrenaline of going on pure instinct (like that time when I thought I had invented muffin french toast). On the other hand you definitely get those, "Oh shiii...." moments where you wish you'd had a shred of guidance before flinging yourself into the fire (like that time when I climbed Mt. Fuji in a blizzard.)
From the outside, cosplay might seem like a pretty straight forward thing that doesn't need much forethought. You get or make a costume. You wear it. You take pics. That's it.
But for what ever reason it can seem a lot more intimidating than that, which is why I'm so excited to bring you PART I of Magdalena Auditore's advice for first time cosplayers.
Before I dive into things, I need to thank all of the people on my Facebook for their beta reading, their suggestions and contribution, and their support. We love cosplay, we love attending conventions and we hope newcomers will enjoy it as much as we do. I also want to extend my love and thanks to the cosplayers I've met over the years who have inspired me and encouraged me, and of course special thanks to Cailleah for allowing me to write about this on the She Got Game blog!
Some would argue that I'm not exactly the person to give advice when it comes to attending anime and video game conventions. I only attend one convention a year since 2008 and don't make my own costumes. I usually take existing store bought costumes or clothes, put them together, and either make a costume of my own design (a school girl Harley Quinn) or try to get as close to the character's appearance as possible (Jeanette Voerman and Tifa Lockhart). Only recently have I decided to spend a little extra money to have costumes commissioned and learned how to apply theatre make up. I have no idea how to make my own costume and I have no idea how to make props or cosplay armor from scratch.
The point I am trying to get across, using myself for an example, is that attending conventions isn't reserved for a certain group of people. You can wear anything you like, may it be store bought, commissioned, or created with your own two hands. While there are rules for competing, there are no rules for buying a weekend pass and actually attending the convention.
I feel that it is important to stress this fact because there are elitists in everything, especially in nerd, geek, and gaming communities. Naturally, that elitism seeps into the cosplay community and most notably has had the spotlight shined on it in SyFy's Heroes of Cosplay. This idea is reinforced on social media outlets and sends a harmful and negative message that only certain people are allowed to cosplay or have the right to cosplay. This can be intimidating for those who've always wanted to attend a convention but are afraid of rejection and humiliation. I personally feel that this community can only get better if we are more supportive and welcoming rather than closed off and exclusive.
Here are a few things you should remember when you are attending your convention:
1. Make sure you go with the right people.
Safety regulations aside, going with a group of people, or going in on a room with a group of people, will make or break your convention-going experience. I've roomed with people I've really clicked with and roomed with people I did NOT click with and it has a direct effect on whether or not I enjoy my time there. I understand that everybody is different and likes to spend their time in different ways. I personally like to wake up early, get dressed up in my costume and then go out and spend the entire day running around the convention. Some people prefer to stay in the hotel room and drink alcohol and throw room parties and maybe occasionally go out and see the convention. Whatever feels more comfortable for you, go for it!
I would suggest that if you go in on a room with someone, you go with people you trust and know you'll be safe with. You usually can't go wrong with close friends and family members. If you decide to room with strangers, it is important that you all decide, as a group, what the "rules" for the hotel room are: no strangers in the room, agree not to go through anybody's stuff, etc. And do NOT stay in a room with someone you feel uncomfortable with. Trust your gut with this one and you should know the difference between whether or not your personality just clashes with this person or if this person is a potential threat to you.
Remember that you're going to be with these people for about three to four days. You want to make sure that you are safe and happy with these people. You deserve to be.
2. The cosplay community is very diverse.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes the producers of Heroes of Cosplay could have done was not represent the vast diversity of conventions. I live in the Metro Detroit area which is already a huge, multicultural location (mostly African American, Latino American, and Arab American). Every year when I attend the Youmacon convention in Detroit, there is a huge, diverse community of people of all races, all ages, different body types, different sexual orientations and gender identities, people from the area and people from out of town.
You are going to meet a lot of different people. Do not let this intimidate you, but instead acknowledge the fact that so many different people all share the same love and enthusiasm that you have for video games, anime, comic books, and other media. You have a great opportunity to make a lot of new friends. If you want to keep in contact with these friends, it helps if you look up and join the convention's community pages on Facebook or join the convention's forum. This is a good way to stay connected, to find out what other conventions they'll be attending in the future, you'll have access to a lot of information about how they made their costumes, and you'll have someone to meet up with at the next convention.
The most important thing about the diversity of conventions is the fact that it is living proof that conventions are not these closed off, exclusive clubs for one particular type of cosplayer or fan. It is something that needs to be celebrated because it does bring different people all together.
3. Do not expect your first costume to be perfect. It might be rough at first, but if you stick with it, you will improve over time.
I remember when I wore my first costume to a convention. I also remember the backlash and the teasing I got for it on the online community because of it. I think it's important to know that whatever you wear in public is going to be open for conversation and not all of that conversation is going to be pleasant. Do not let that dishearten you if this is your first time attending a convention or wearing a costume. Everybody starts from somewhere and as you keep going to conventions, you start learning new things about what to apply to your future costumes.
It's important not to be motivated by what other people personally think of your costume. However, I've discovered that certain cosplayers have inspired me to push myself when it comes to dressing up as certain characters. If you give up in the beginning, you'll never have an opportunity to grow. Cosplay is for fun, but it can also be a learning experience if you stick with it long enough. Always keep those embarrassing first-cosplay pictures of yourself because you'll look back one day and see just how far you've come! Trust me, there will be huge differences between now and then!
Also be aware that if you keep cosplaying and attending conventions, there will always be newcomers and beginners. Remember how you felt when you first cosplayed and make a conscious effort to be supportive and encouraging.
4. There are no rules for cosplaying.
You will hear a lot of people say "Black girls shouldn't cosplay as Sailor Scouts!" or "Fat girls shouldn't cosplay skinny characters!" or "Guys shouldn't dress up as Faye Valentine!" or "If a woman is going to cosplay a guy she should bind her boobs!" and a myriad of other judgmental and nasty things. Sadly, these things are said and repeated and hotly debated a lot, both at the convention and on online communities (how many times have we heard the "You're not a REAL fan" accusation before?) There is nothing wrong with giving constructive criticism for how to make a costume look better, but nobody has the right to tell you that you are not allowed to wear something (unless of course you are wearing a costume of some kind of racist caricature, which has happened quite a few times before).
What is important is that you want to be absolutely comfortable in whatever it is you are wearing. Cosplay should make you feel good about yourself. You should want to have as much fun as possible in your costume. It's okay to be a little nervous in the beginning, but if you start feeling overwhelmingly self-conscious or anxious because of your costume, try something different next time. Comfort is more important than becoming an exact replica of a fictional character. Even if you do not look exactly like the person you are cosplaying, you can still look great and feel great about yourself.
In the event where you meet someone who has absolutely nothing nice to say about anything you wear, think of it in this light: if nothing you are going to do is going to impress them, you do not have to live up to their expectations. You already know that they'll be disappointed in you, you already know what they're going to think of you, so just go with whatever you wanted to do anyways. You have nothing to lose. There will be just as many people who will be happy to help and would like to see you improve over time.
(Photo by Jason Laboy)
Back in a jiffy with Part II. Thanks for reading and comments always welcome.